Historic Structures

Kensington Plantation, Eastover South Carolina

Date added: December 18, 2015 Categories: South Carolina House Plantations & Farms

Kensington Plantation was one of several plantations acquired by Matthew Singleton, who died in 1787, willing the property to his son, John. By the time the family holdings had been passed on to John's son, Richard, they consisted of over 12,000 acres of prime cotton land on both sides of the Wateree River.

Matthew Richard, Richard Singleton's heir, moved to the "Headquarters" plantation after a tour of duty in Europe as a military attache. In 1844, after his marriage, the plantation was renamed "Kensington" and the house and grounds were improved. The Kensington House was completed in 1855 after Matthew Richard's death at the age of 38 and was occupied by his wife, children and his wife's mother during the Civil War.

Unlike many plantation houses, Kensington survived the Civil War. Richard and Cleland Singleton, his children, divided the plantation acreage in half. Cleland built another small bouse on the southern half of the plantation, probably in the 1870's-80's. That house subsequently served as the overseer's residence from 1925 to 1941 and has since burned down. Matthew Richard Singleton, Richard Singleton's heir, constructed a small residence around the turn of the century to the northeast of the main house. The untimely death of this heir precipitated Richard's decision to retire from country life and the plantation was sold to Robert Hamer of Dillon, South Carolina.

Although Mr. Hamer died before moving in, his son, R.C. and family occupied the main house and farmed the lands until 1941. In 1925, upon the death of Cleland Singleton, the Hamers repurchased the southern half of the original plantation. Many improvements were made to the house during the Hamer occupancy, including the installation of indoor plumbing and electricity and a gas powered well pump to take the place of the original brick cistern in the basement. In 1941, the Hamers sold the entire plantation to the U.S. Government as an agricultural cooperative for displaced farmers. Unfortunately, the government's priorities were shifted due to the advent of World War II and the plantation was sold to the Lanham family. The Lanhams chose not to live in the main house, but constructed a smaller residence to the west. The Kensington House and surrounding outbuildings were used as storage for farm equipment, fertilizer and feed.

The first Matthew Singleton and his son, John, served under Francis Marion in the Revolutionary War. Matthew was a captain of Horse Company, while his son was a lieutenant under him. "Colonel" Richard Singleton, John's son, was a leading member of the family, having not only increased the family holdings to six plantations in Sumter and Richland Counties, but as the founder and leading stockholder in the South Carolina Railroad Company, the first commercial railroad in America. His efforts for the railroad were rewarded with the construction of the Acton station on his property. His daughter, Angelica, married Abram Van Buren, son of the President of the United States in 1838. Because Martin Van Buren was a widower, Angelica took on the duties of hostess at the White House. "Colonel" Richard Singleton's youngest children were twins, Matthew and Richard. When Richard died, at the age of 16, his twin brother added Richard's name to his own, thereby becoming Matthew Richard. Matthew Richard was appointed as military attache to the American mission in London and upon his return to the plantations, began a scientific study of agricultural practice. He is attributed to have been the first person to import and raise African broad-tailed sheep in the United States. After his death in 1855, his wife, mother-in-law and son, Richard, continued to live at Kensington. During the Civil War, his wife's mother, Mrs. Mary Loundes Kinloch, was able to save the plantation from burning by Union soldiers, by appealing to the soldier's memories of his own grandmother. Among important guests at the plantations was General Wade Hampton, who began his honeymoon there. Richard Singleton served one term in the S.C. State Legislature, but was swept out of office in the rise of the populist movement. Upon the death of his son, Matthew Richard, in 1910, he sold the plantation to Robert Hamer.

The domed 3-story central portion of the house is flanked by two gabled 3-story wings and a 2-story gabled wing with veranda on the east side of the house. The residence measures 85'-6" x 72'-1" with an arched porte cochere at the entrance from the oval drive.

The ground floor (basement) housed the many functional systems of the house including a winter kitchen, storerooms, a 45' long brick cistern to hold rainwater, and quarters for the house servants. The ceiling was at 8'-0" above the brick floor. The lower floor nearly is level with the exterior grade.

Entering the house from the porte cochere, there is a large central entry, open two stories to the skylight at the top of the dome. Two parlors flank the main hall to the right and left. Directly ahead, a short passageway to the dining room contains six niches for sculpture. The dining room beyond (27 x 14') has a coffered barrel vaulted ceiling with an enormous chandelier medallion. Floor to cornice windows lead to the veranda. Transverse halls at the main entry hall provide access to bedrooms, a library, serving pantry and a closed stairway to the second floor. Original decorative motives included cast plaster cornices and decorations, flocked wallpaper at the ceilings of the two parlors and plain marble mantels.

On the second floor, cast iron railing surrounded a large open well to the entry hall. The railing has been removed and reused on the exterior porch of the Lanham residence. Small hallways to the north and south of the sitting room balcony each provide access to two bedrooms and a dressing room. Two small rooms to the east were converted into bathrooms about 1920. There is a stairway inside the dome structure accessible from the bedrooms. The interior of the dome is ornamented with cast plaster decoration.

The main plantation avenue from US Route 601 measures approximately one mile long and is lined on both sides with mature oak trees. It ends in an large oval drive in front of the main house. The original formal gardens on the east of the house were laid out in a spoke design and contained both native and exotic trees including water oak, magnolia, cedar, haw and holly. There was a boxwood-bordered formal garden and a rose garden. Other shrubbery included lilacs and syringia. These gardens have been removed and leveled for cultivation. Open woods are located to the north of the house. From the oval drive, the main plantation street takes off to the south, past the plantation store and pecan orchard to the slave and servant quarters, barns and overseer's house.